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This year’s men’s road cycling is getting underway and so it’s time to get ‘in gear’ before all of the major races kick off. The cycling season is made up of so much more than just the Tour de France; few realise just how many quality races that take place during the season.
The first major race you need to look out for is the Milan-San Remo, also known as La classica di Primavera (The Spring Classic), which will run on the 23rd March. This is the longest single day race on the road cycling calendar, running for around about 300km and is a long day for everyone involved. Last year this race was contested in horrendous weather conditions, the fact it was even completed is a testament to the resolve of professional road cyclists.
A race to look out for, though it isn’t a classic just yet, is the Strade Bianchi. This race takes place along the white gravel roads of Tuscany in early March. It is a relatively recent addition to the racing calendar, yet it has gained tremendous popularity because of the exciting racing it produces each year.
The next set of classic races are the Cobbled classics which take place in Belgium and Northern France as four of them make up the set: E3 Harelbeke, Gent-Wevelgem, Tour of Flanders and Paris Roubaix. Without wanting to cause too much disrespect to the first races in this series, they are great races in their own right, it is the final two cobbled classics which everyone looks out for. The Tour of Flanders (Ronde van Vlaanderen) is a race full of steep cobbled hills which only the strongest of riders can conquer whilst at the front of the action. With the race containing a number of short and very steep hills, it naturally creates chances of exciting short bursts of action occurring. Paris-Roubaix otherwise known as ‘The Hell of the North’ is a race about surviving the constant punishment which accompanies riding along long stretches of cobbled roads. This race shouldn’t be missed, especially if the weather conditions take a turn for the worse, then they may just cross into the realm of being epic.
Following very closely after the hellish cobbled races, your attention needs to shift to the Ardennes Classics. There are three races that make up these classics: Amstel Gold, Flèche Wallonne and Liège-Bastogne-Liège.
Throughout the road cycling season there are races which, in terms of length, come in between the One-Day Classics and the three week long Grand Tours which are known as Stage Races. These races are seen, for the most part, as preparatory races for each of the Grand Tours. However each of these stage races has a history and prestige which should not be ignored; stage races to look out for are one like Paris-Nice, Tour de Suisse and the Critérium du Dauphiné. With these races being shorter in length compared to the Grand Tours, more aggressive racing is likely because it is less of a burden in terms of endurance.
Each season of road cycling is stapled at three different points by races which are known as Grand Tours. These races are three weeks in length and are one of the few sporting events which can claim to be the ultimate test for an athlete’s endurance. The Tour de France is only one of the three, the other two being the Giro D’Italia which takes place during May, and the Vuelta a España which runs from mid-August. The Tour may be the most popularised race, but the Giro and Vuelta can claim to have equally high quality racing and entertainment, especially since the Tour occasionally fails to live up to its own hype.
Grand Tours are the races which all young riders all dream of competing in and hopefully winning at some point in their career. These races mean so much that they are definitely not to be missed.